Cat in bed

There may be various reasons your cat urinates on your bed. When a cat urinates anywhere other than in his litterbox, the first step the owner should take is to have a veterinarian do a physical exam and relevant diagnostic tests, including urinalysis to be sure he does not have an underlying medical problem. When he has a bladder infection, for example, your cat may associate pain or discomfort with the litterbox. The cat may then choose another location. If the examination, urinalysis and other diagnostic tests are normal, then we need to determine why the cat is choosing the owner’s bed.

Anxiety Is Often the Culprit

Most often when a client consults with me regarding her cat’s inappropriate urination on her bed, I can usually identify an anxiety-related issue. We try to identify the stressors that are contributing to the cat’s inappropriate behavior. Is there an issue related to the litterbox, location of the box or substrate (type of litter) that is causing the cat to stray away from the designated toileting area? Or are we dealing with a social issue — either tension in the relationship with the owner or with another cat, family member or pet in the household?

First, we need to assess the conditions of the litterbox. How often is the litterbox cleaned? A litterbox should be cleaned at least once daily. (Think about how you feel when you go into the bathroom and someone did not flush after using the toilet.) Make sure you are providing the most ideal litter, box type and location for your cat’s toileting area. While the ideal litter may vary according to a cat’s individual preferences, previous studies have indicated that the majority of cats prefer finely ground substrate, such as clumping clay litter. Although manufacturers may make scented litter to appeal to humans, some cats may prefer unscented litter.

Look at the size of the litterbox — are you providing a large enough box? The general recommendation is one and a half times the length of the cat’s body (not including the tail). I always go with the larger the better and often have my cat owners use plastic storage boxes instead of traditional litterboxes. (Just remove the lid and cut a small opening on the side.) Many cats prefer a litterbox that does not have a cover. Covers are often designed to appeal to an owner’s preference to keep the contents of the litterbox out of sight and contained. If the owner is concerned with the cat throwing litter out over the edges, she can purchase uncovered litterboxes with tall sides (unless she owns an older, arthritic cat that may have more difficulty climbing over tall sides). Though some cats may have a preference for covered boxes, keep in mind that, in the wild, cats do not choose to eliminate in caves.

When I perform a consultation for an inappropriate urination problem, I usually recommend offering two litterboxes placed side by side and then changing one aspect, such as removing the lid or changing to a different type of litter in the second box. That way, we can determine the cat’s true preference. Usually, when a cat has seemed OK with a litterbox but then suddenly finds it intolerable, he was not truly happy with the previous arrangement in the first place.

Where is the litterbox located? Is it in an area of high foot traffic, where the cat may be disturbed while eliminating? Is it located quite a distance from where he spends the majority of his time? If the box offers very little privacy or is too far away and the cat needs to make a big effort to get there, he may choose an alternate location for elimination. The rule is one litterbox per cat plus one, especially if your house is large or has multiple floors.

Finding Comfort on Your Comforter

Some cats urinate on their owners’ beds if the owners work long hours or travel. Sometimes the inappropriate episodes occur either when an owner is out of the house or out of town, or the cat may wait until the owner returns home. It is a cat’s way of communicating how unhappy or stressed he has been over your absence. Sometimes a cat may urinate on the side of the bed of the person with whom the cat has a conflict. I have seen this occur when an owner brings home a new partner or a housemate moves in and the cat is not immediately accepting of the new person in his life. Sometimes a move may be a catalyst for urinating on the bed. These various scenarios may be stressful for the cat, and the cat may want to intermingle his own scent with the owner’s scent on the bed. It is important to remember that the cat is not being ‘spiteful’ if this happens — it is simply that the intermingling of these odors may prove comforting to the cat. Because it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s causing the cat’s anxiety, it’s important to work with a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist to identify the cause and determine the correct steps to help remedy the situation.

Another strategy I sometimes employ is to have the owner initiate a special play or treat time on the bed in the location where the cat has urinated. The goal here is to change the association for the cat from a potential latrine or marking area to a place of fun and/or eating, because most cats typically don’t urinate where they eat.

While you are sorting the issue out, you can restrict access to the bed by keeping the bedroom door closed, or try putting a litterbox in the bedroom — although often the behavior will continue even if a litterbox is nearby. Sometimes, this problem can be easily resolved by providing the appropriate or preferred toileting conditions to the cat to encourage him to use the litterbox again, or by removing whatever the attractive bedding material is from the bed. Other times, however, the problem may be more complicated and need further assessment from a trained behavioral consultant. The important thing to keep in mind as you deal with the situation is that your cat is simply trying to tell you something, and it’s up to you, with appropriate help, to try to figure out what that is.

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